Jonathan Temples / Code Masters,
Added on June 17th, 2014 (3706 views)
Hello and welcome! Please introduce yourself to anyone who may not know you.
Hello, everyone. My name is Jonathan Temples, but you may remember me from my early gaming days as Jonathan Smyth, the gaming artist from Genesis Software. I created graphics for title screens, animations for the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST. My non-commercial work was for the Commodore VIC-20.
How did you first get started with computers and the C64 in particular?
I first got started when my granny bought me a Commodore VIC-20 one Christmas, and the thing just blew my mind. I couldn't afford to buy many games, so I picked up the programmer's guide and started writing some basic games of my own. Two years after that, I got a Commodore 64 for Christmas, and that was the start of my graphics addiction, ably assisted by Tony Crowther's sprite and background editor which my cousin David Clarke (programmer for CJ’s, Nobby, Spike, etc.) and I typed in manually from a Commodore Format magazine – all twelve pages of it (ouch!).
Tell us how your career in games started. Did you submit work samples to various games companies looking for jobs, or did jobs come to you?
My cousin always loved my graphics, but he was very mathematical in his ways and so picked up coding far quicker than I did. He was as good a coder as I was an artist, so we made the perfect team. David submitted a Gradius-type shoot-'em-up to Code Masters, and they gave him a contract to write games. As he was leaving the office, they asked him where he'd ripped the graphics from, and he replied: "I didn't, my cousin drew them", so from then on, I was employed by Code Masters on a freelance basis. From time to time, they would also ask me to tidy up or re-vamp some poor graphics in a game waiting for release. I enjoyed working on this one game, Stuntman Seymour. I was supplied with the game and had to redo all the graphics within the same sprite frames and colours. I must have impressed Code Masters, because more work soon followed.
What attracted you to the C64 as a development platform? Was it as special as we like to think it was?
In the beginning, I designed graphics on the Commodore 64 because that was all I had, though I did count myself lucky, as I didn't much like the Spectrum, BBC Micro or Amstrad as gaming platforms at the time.
What C64 games did you work on? Write a list with the titles and as much information you remember about each of them.
OK, from the start: SpellCast (a first-level cover tape game for Zzap!64 magazine); CJ’s Elephant Antics (for Code Masters); Spikey in Transylvania (for Code Masters); Phileas Fogg's Balloon Battles; CJ in the USA (for Code Masters); Bubble Dizzy (a loading screen for Code Masters); Stuntman Seymour (for Code Masters); DJ Puff's Volcanic Capers (for Code Masters); Wrestling Superstars (for Code Masters); Cue Boy (some graphics for Code Masters); 1st Division Manager (for Code Masters); Miami Chase (for Code Masters); Nobby the Aardvark (for Thalamus).
What companies did you work for, in-house and/or freelance, and what were your tasks?
I worked on a freelance basis for Code Masters, Zeppelin Games and Choice Software, and in-house for Genesis Software. My tasks always consisted of game graphics concepts, level layouts, sprite design/animation, storyboarding and front-end and back-end design.
What did a typical day in front of the computer look like?
I had it quite easy, as I would normally start about 11 a.m. and work until perhaps 5.30 p.m., then have my tea. Now and again, I would go back in the evening if I didn't have anything planned with friends.
When you were assigned to a game, how much time did you usually have to finish your work?
Games would generally take around five to six months. I would for instance get the first level – sprites, a level map, fonts for the score, etc. – ready for the coder, who would then maybe phone up and ask for another sprite enemy or something. Way back then, there was of course no Internet, no mobile phones (at all) and no Wi-Fi, so I would design the sprite, post it in a Jiffy bag, and he would see it a few days later and tell me if he liked it or not over the phone. Crazy to even think about now!
What tools/development kits/etc. did you use, and did you create any yourself to satisfy your needs?
My creative weapons of choice were the Commodore 64 mouse with a mouse painting package for creating title screens, etc. in bitmap format, and Tony Crowther's editor for all animations and backdrops. When I was working with my cousin David Clarke, he would code a map editor which used 2x2 character blocks from Tony's character editor, which made maps more memory-efficient and levels not quite so massive. He would even include a sort of smiley face, but with a sad mouth saying "Workey time Jonny", just to rub it in!
Were there any games you worked on which never saw the light of day?
Yes, my favourite one in fact, SpellCast. It only ever got coded to Level 1. It was a cross between Barbarian and Ghosts'n Goblins, with loads of sprites and huge enemies. You can check it out here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI8MNdfiSx4 or here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4x5Pmg1XDM.
Which game are you most proud of, which was most fun to do, which became a real challenge, and which gave you headaches?
The game I'm most proud of would be CJ's Elephant Antics – looking back on it even now, it looks almost pixel-perfect. Spikey in Transylvania was a real challenge, as it was the only isometric puzzle adventure game I ever designed on the Commodore 64 and Amiga. The one that gave me the real headaches, however, was in fact SpellCast, because the main player jumped around, fought with swords, rolled and somersaulted, plus the enemies were built using 16 sprites and my map editor couldn't place them all together. I got around this by drawing them on my mouse title page programme, which my cousin David would then convert over into small bits of sprites.
I did a game called Phileas Fogg's Balloon Battles for a guy called Duncan. I'd worked with him on DJ Puff and Bubble Dizzy. And yes, I did do this game for the money. I did try to add greatness to the game, but the coder just never listened, and everything I said about playability went in one ear and out the other. It had been a bad idea from the start, and they'd brought me in to at least make it look good. I think it ended up scoring 90% for the graphics and 12% for the game, one magazine I believe giving the quote: "Graphics doth not make a game". Well, at least I did my bit!
I worked on a few games with Duncan. I think he missed one of my payments, though it's so long ago, I can't even remember now.
Moving on to Panic Dizzy: I got an offer to do a quick turnaround on a Commodore Amiga Dizzy game that seem to be doing well, to Code Masters' surprise, so a commission for the Commodore 64 version was given to me. I love pirates and boats, so this was a fun game for me to do. It was one of the easier games for me to design, animate and convert, so much so that one magazine even said it looked better than the Commodore Amiga version. The only downside was receiving the Amiga game from Code Masters and then having to play all the levels over and over again, with a sketch pad, drawing and quickly noting the animations. If only I could do that as a job now!
Of all the games I've known, Spikey in Transylvania is my one true love. David and I loved the old Commodore 64 Ultimate games like Entombed, Staff of Karnath and a cowboy-themed one whose name escapes me now [Outlaws (1985) – ed.]. Code Masters then mentioned they had never released a full-colour Dizzy game for the Commodore 64, so we gave the Commodore 64 an adventure game with all this mixed in. Everyone loved it, and it's still great if you play it today. I would love to do this one again. It has lovely elements in the detail, like the Dungeon soldier listens to Pink Floyd and the bouncer requires you to have a tie in order to get it. My cousin David crammed so much in, with full-colour screens in full bitmap, meaning 16 colours on screen for the background and large sprites. Ashley Hogg also did some amazing sound effects and a cracking soundtrack. We put so much love into this one, and I think it shows.
If you had the chance to go back to any of your past games, what would you add and/or remove?
OK, now I must tell you about my one BIG mistake. When I designed Nobby the Aardvark, we had him transport into a castle garden. Thalamus wanted a space station instead, but weren't paying for the change, so I never actually corrected this. Thus, when Nobby gets to the space station, it clearly looks like a castle garden, which now really bugs me! The Nobby game still got a Gold medal in Zzap!64, but I am a perfectionist, so that is what I would change or remove.
Were there any particular games that you would have liked to work on or converted from arcade?
I really loved the series 'V', and Ocean did this crappy game of it, so I wish we could have worked on that. I would have had lizards running around and Mike Donovan as the player, swinging off buildings and dodging lasers, and mini-levels controlling visitors' spaceships...
Did you get much chance to play games as well as create them? Any favourites?
Oh yes, I was a big gamer. A few of my favourites were: Time Tunnel (U.S. Gold); Thrust (Firebird); Phantoms of the Asteroid (Mastertronic); Myth – History in the Making (System 3); Project Firestart (EA); Ghosts'n Goblins (Elite); Rambo – First Blood Part II (Ocean); and Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future (Virgin Interactive).
Were there any games which you felt were so appalling and bad that you wished you had worked on to do a better job?
This is certainly true of 'V', as already mentioned above, and also Soldier of Light. These were two major-league games which were nonetheless released to the Commodore 64 gaming public in a very poor way. I loved 'V' the series and wish I'd had the chance to do the game. Ocean Software had secured this great licence and then released a game which was so disappointing, I remember I was almost crying one Christmas. I had waited so long, for what turned out to be a game with no lizard aliens, droids which weren't even in the series, and a game so bad it didn't even play well. They had also made it so hard to progress, presumably so you would never see the rest of the awful mess. I felt very let down, though I remember all my friends at school saying how badly it had affected them too. I wanted and would still love to be given that chance, and you still see companies with great licences doing this today, even though it's not exactly rocket science to make a game that's authentic, playable and fun. All you need is RESEARCH, MILESTONES and a LOVE for the game. Well, that's my rant over now, anyway.
Was there a particular programmer, artist and/or musician who influenced you and possibly gave inspiration to your own work, or did inspiration come from somewhere else?
I remember being heavily influenced by an artist called Bob Stevenson. He created graphics for Myth, Delta, IO and other cool games. He used crosshatching effects with pixels in weird combinations to achieve cool colours and effects. As a teenager, I remember looking up to his work a lot.
Share some memories from the old days! It could for instance be something you remember a colleague did or said, about your time in the demo scene, about crackers stealing development disks, or about going to computer shows.
Well, you may have heard this one already, but Code Masters once asked David, Ashley and myself to come over to attend the Earls Courts computer games show in London one year, this was sometime in the 1990s, and chat to some people over a few beers. Well, they opened this fridge unit, and lo and behold, it was twelve bottles wide, ten deep, and had about fifteen shelves, all full of beer. Now, us being strapping lads from Belfast, we saw an opportunity and indeed a challenge. Bad mistake! This led to what was and will always remain the mother of all headaches, which we nursed on the flight home the next day, sick as dogs! I think we also failed the challenge, having left a few beers in the fridge. LOL!
The strange thing about that particular time in the 1990s was that my cousin David Clarke, Ashley Hogg and myself never really realised how much fame had been thrust upon us in a very short space of time. What I mean here by "fame" is that big names from England like Code Masters and Thalamus wanted to work with us no-name Belfast boys. Remember, we had only made one commercial game, albeit it a chart topper which Zzap!64 had loved! Also, Belfast was of course a very different place back in the 1990s with the Troubles still raging, so sometimes we couldn't even get to our wee company in town because of a bomb scare and roads being closed. When we got to go to London for the first time in 1990, I remember thinking how lovely and colourful it all was. The shops were vibrant with colour, people were out enjoying themselves shopping, and there was such a buzz. It was a different story back home, with road blocks, soldiers on the streets and people walking around looking very nervous. Anyway, on the gaming front, companies just kept phoning David and Ashley, asking us to do their next game. One interesting story was when my cousin David was asked to write the game G-Loc R360 for the Commodore 64, I think it was for U.S. Gold, and he said: "There is no chance in **** of that working on the Commodore 64, but if you let me write a different style of game which suits the Commodore 64, then I'll do it. Well, they turned him down, and so, some other coder did G-Loc R360. It got just a 35% review rating in Zzap!64, so maybe David was right.
One interesting experience of ours with crackers/hackers was when David had just finished the code for CJ's Elephant Antics and posted it off to Code Masters (no email back then, just Jiffy bags, which meant two to three days by Royal Mail). By the start of the following week, coders we knew in Belfast already had cracked copies and demos, and we still hadn't even been paid. This made us realise that either someone had cracked the game there and then on its very first day of release, or some folk had managed to get hold of the game before it was released. This annoyed us, as it meant we made less on a game through royalties. Then as now, this damages future gaming development.
We can't ignore the fact that there were other machines apart from the C64. Share with us the software and/or hardware you created on other systems.
Well, I did code my own racing horse game once for the Commodore 64. I was a very poor coder back then, but crap or not, at least I had coded my own game! Code Masters gave me a free Commodore Amiga 1000 in order for me to work on their Amiga games: they wanted me to do some game graphics for CJ's Elephant Antics, Spikey in Transylvania, etc., but I didn't have an Amiga, so they posted one out to me. Nice! I loved using Deluxe Paint, what a program! My old VIC-20 days were also fun, but graphics and coding were just a hobby thing then, so not much to talk about really. I'm only now really getting back into graphics, after a 15-year break spent doing animations for Adobe Flash games and the like. I'm also having fun reliving my Commodore 64 days by designing and creating retro C64-type games for the iPhone and iPad. By the way, as far as designing games graphics is concerned, I'm always on the lookout for developers, and don't worry, I'm sure we can work out a budget to work with. You can check out my portfolio at www.jonathantemples.co.uk.
What are you up to these days?
Most recently, I have just launched my new retro games company Infurious Republic (www.infuriousrepublic.com) with my business partner, the excellent coder Philip Orr. Our first game is very C64 in nature, and all my sprites were drawn in square-type measurements to mimic the old sprites on the Commodore 64. I'm not really into 3D games myself, so our company will only develop 2D games just like the ones we would have bought years ago from Code Masters, Mastertronic, Firebird, Ocean or U.S. Gold. Please support our game DestructANT, as we have a mind-blowing selection of games planned for this and next year, if we can make a business out of it. For more details, visit www.infuriousrepublic.com/blog.
Thanks for listening to me, and it's nice to know that people out there still love my games. A few months ago, Retro Gamer even named my CJ's Elephant Antics "Game of the Month". Apologies to those of you out there who don't have an iPhone or iPad: if the gaming scene gets through these tough times, we may well splash out on an Android coder.
Thank you for helping us preserve an important part of computer and gaming history! Do you have any last comments to leave a final impression on the audience? Feel free to send any greetings to anyone you know.
There is this one person I'd love to say 'Hi' to, but it's been so long, I can't remember his name. I was working on an Aztec Challenge-type game for a person, I think called "Bigonna", from Sweden or somewhere like that, and we kept in contact until I moved house and then things dried up. He did remakes, and he did it as a free thing so it was a bit of an Indie game kind of thing. I'd love to get in contact with him again.
Plus, of course, 'Hi' to all my fans out there. If anything, I hope I have left you with memories that you recall as fondly as I do. We were lucky to be kids at that time. Kids today just want to play the games, but we were different because we struggled to acquire games or find the money to buy them, which is precisely why it created more games designers, programmers and artists. I am and always will be into gaming, and at present, I want to bring the retro games back, so if you know of any indie coders who also want to bring the magic back, please let me know, and I'll grab my Wacom tablet and fire up Photoshop!
In fact, I have to go now, as all this talk has made me want to open up my special Commodore 64 box in the loft upstairs, I believe the Commodore 64 machine and the games all still work. Take care! JT (www.jonathantemples.co.uk)
back to the list of available interviews